This morning, Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone announced the nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards. Voting: “Regular awards are presented for outstanding individual or collective film achievements in up to 25 categories. Members from each of the branches vote to determine the nominees in their respective categories – actors nominate actors, film editors nominated film editors, etc.” and “All voting members are eligible to select the Best Picture nominees.” For the winners, “[f]inal ballots are mailed to voting members in late-January and are due back to [PwC] the Tuesday prior to Oscar Sunday for final tabulation.”
So that makes sense, the specialists pick the nominees over a year, basically, to whittle down the options and then everyone else has about two weeks to watch the dozens of nominated films. I’m sure that’s what they do. It’s a rather complicated system to pick the nominee, designed to present consensus views, whereby lowest first choice vote-getters are removed and those voters’ second choice is counted until a mathematical threshold is achieved. That is to say, don’t think that the voting system has confounded any particular constituency. Not in the nomination process, anyway.
Without further ado:
- Argo (review)
- Beasts of the Southern Wild
- Django Unchained (review)
- Les Misérables
- Life of Pi
- Lincoln (review)
- Silver Linings Playbook
- Zero Dark Thirty
Should: Zero Dark Thirty
Will: Zero Dark Thirty
Once again, the Academy has only selected nine of the allowed ten films for the Best Picture category. The biggest slight is to The Master (review), which is an odd film, but probably a better work of production and writing than, say, Beasts of the Southern Wild. I find it particularly interesting that Beasts of the Southern Wild is the only nominee that is or will be available on DVD/Blu-Ray by the time votes are due and only Argo will be released before the ceremony. Now, obviously the voters receive screeners (pre-release Blu-Rays), so it isn’t an issue of fairness. However, it is an interesting commentary on recency as either a bias in decisions or a tactic by distributors or both.
As an entire piece, the winner should be Zero Dark Thirty. It commits no film errors. Every part of the movie, acting, cinematography, editing, plot, direction, was of a high caliber. It didn’t fall into any of the traps of an espionage thriller–where a film like Argo jumped into head first–of creating empty suspense moments or cheating any part of the plot. Zero Dark Thirty has three parts: the manhunt, the attempted infiltration, and the final military incursion. The major failure of the film is not to enter the political realm as genuinely as it does for intelligence and military. That’s completely understandable since we’re in the middle of an Obama administration so stand-ins for Obama, Biden, and Clinton would be very very delicate operations to get right. How could they possibly avoid parody or apparent aggrandizement? So they created a proxy, which was CIA Director Podesta (James Gandolfini). The greatest achievement of the film is playing out the SEAL Team incursion fully (it must have been 20 minutes at least) instead of turning it into a montage. It isn’t that it satisfies bloodlust, it’s that it shows actual events that we aren’t generally privy to.
So, why not Life of Pi and the rest? I’ll take them in order of ease of dismissal. Argo is an imposter of a mature espionage thriller–it does everything to look like one except actually being one. It’s the one Spielberg would have done after E.T. (1982). So everything looked good, the acting was pretty good, the script was pretty funny, but it was blatant manipulation. If it hadn’t been for Zero Dark Thirty, director Ben Affleck might have gotten away with it, but the grit comparison was too obvious.
Silver Linings Playbook suffers from two disabilities. First, it’s a comedy which puts it at immediate disadvantage. A comedy has to be brilliantly funny throughout and be without flaw. It can’t easily build up a cache of support through the movie to gloss over weaknesses (like Lincoln does). Even so, up to probably the 1:20 mark, this movie was still in contention and then it dropped its pants and laid an egg of Disney proportions. If you saw the movie, you know what I’m talking about. ”Oh, I love that part, that’s where [Spoiler] starts to [spoil] [spoiler].” Yeah, I know, it’s very nice, but it is the saccharin pounding of a lifetime forced into what began as an edge-of-your-seat internal conflict. Will he explode? Oh, I see, no, he won’t, it’s all going to turn out okay. It gutted the final act.
Beasts of the Southern Wild was pretty lovely but more hollow than I anticipated. When I saw the trailer, I expected to be riveted in a way that failed to happen. It walked the line of harsh social realism and magic a little too closely. I think it happened when everyone was put into the FEMA (?) camp. The outside world broke into the story they had been building in a way that destroyed Hushpuppy’s story of imagination. They put me and my views into the story and forced me to decide, then and there, how I felt about their life. It killed the charm and thereby killed the movie.
Les Misérables is one of my favorite musicals and one of the best suited to film. I expected Tom Hooper to knock it out of the park. He didn’t. He bunted in a way that I found utterly shocking and did so over and over again. The first time was “At the End of the Day” which is a stirring song (like 80% of Les Mis) that was all built up for the plebs to hit a closed gate on the last beat. It’s hard to talk about without the soundtrack playing. But the camera work was so discordant with the music, it was astounding. If you like, go to this recording and skip to about the 1:15 mark. The violins there, when it picks up, determing, in my mind, a particular speed at which the camera should be panning. Cut that speed in half and that’s how Hooper did it. A more easily explained bunt happens at “Valjean’s Soliloquy/What Have I Done?” where Valjean (Hugh Jackman) decides to transform himself into a paragon. The scene takes place at an altar placed at the end of a small hallway. At most, there are three camera positions used for this three and a half song and the man literally (and I mean literally) walks up and down the hallway. It was painfully unimaginative. I could go on like this, which is why I didn’t review it–I learned my lesson from The Hobbit review. But this is all Hoopers fault. Everyone else involved did either well-enough or brilliantly (Anne Hathaway).
My complaints as to Lincoln have already been explained. I thought the cinematography was creamy and, so, comically nostalgic. I also thought the voting scene was a ludicrous contrivance of, and I’ll say it again, Disney proportions. That said, it’s weaknesses can be glossed over in large part because Daniel Day-Lewis‘s performance was exceptionally good and the character they created was seminal–and don’t mean there are millions of attempts and only one succeeds, though I suppose I could. I recall that last year people kept saying how The Iron Lady (2011) wasn’t very good, but Meryl Streep was phenomenal (and she won the Best Actress award). I said that if she were really that good, the movie could not have been mediocre. Day-Lewis proves my point, I think. He put that movie on his back and carried it all the way to a Best Picture nomination. Though I will say that he was provided, at least, a decently interesting story.
I also reviewed Django Unchained, so my views on that are already out there. For summary’s sake, I liked the movie for the most part, but it’s just one or two steps closer to the mainstream than Inglourious Basterds (2009) which is about two steps short of actually doing a mature, honest film. There’s plenty in it that is true and observant and interesting, no question. The technical skill in composing the movie is very high. But Tarantino likes to do pastiche and likes inside jokes. What it means is that he doesn’t ever make the best movie he can possibly make. He always makes the coolest–word stolen from Anthony Lane–movie he can possibly make. In the best movie, you don’t have the high speed zoom (ex. the trailer at 1:02 and 1:20). That’s not to say you can’t have style, but it has to be a style that achieves something other than being stylistic. Still, Django Unchained was a good movie and if it were better at being a movie than Zero Dark Thirty, then I would have supported it for Best Picture, but it wasn’t so I don’t.
Life of Pi is the movie I have trouble critiquing. There are a few lines here or there that are awful, there’s no question, but that isn’t what hurts the movie. I liked the movie a lot, I think the story was excellent, the look was very attractive, and really liked the ending, in fact, which is where the controversy lies. My main problem, though, lies with its inability to satisfy on its central positive characteristic which is the production design and cinematography. This is a 3D movie and yet I do not recall a movie that uses 3D techniques less. In The Hobbit, they use 3D as a kind of constant effect where depth of most everything is expressed (as opposed to just the money shots of things flying towards camera) whereas in Life of Pi, there are things that fly at the camera and even they aren’t expressed well in 3D. The whale, for example, probably looked as deep in 2D as 3D. So, with all of that, I ask myself, “Is it better than Zero Dark Thirty?” Obviously not.
I haven’t seen Amour as yet, so I will have to put off any well-founded comments until later. I will say that it shouldn’t win because it just isn’t ambitious. From what I can tell, this is a French Away from Her (2006) except a more painful dwelt-upon separation.
Putting myself in the place of the voters, I would say it’s between Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, and Life of Pi. Zero Dark Thirty is second only to Argo on Rotten Tomatoes 94 to 96 of the nominees. However, I think one can account for that by the fact that Argo came out around three months ago which was a month or two before any of the other nominees. End of Watch was the highest rated before Argo was released. Ultimately, I say Zero Dark Thirty is too obviously the hardest-hitting film on the list with critical cover.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
- Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook
- Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln
- Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables
- Joaquin Phoenix for The Master
- Denzel Washington for Flight
Should: Joaquin Phoenix
Will: Daniel Day-Lewis
This is a fair slate with a possible surprise that Cooper was nominated instead of Suraj Sharma from Life of Pi and John Hawkes from The Sessions (the latter of which I suspect to be an injustice). Other imaginable contenders would be Ben Affleck for Argo, Daniel Craig for Skyfall, Christian Bale for The Dark Knight Rises, Liam Neeson for The Grey, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt for Looper. None of these are particular slights. An action movie star doesn’t have much expectation (for now) of being nominated for acting awards. Looking at that list of actors, however, shows that this expectation may change.
Joaquin Phoenix was absolutely spectacular in The Master. If you saw that movie, and you didn’t, you saw him transform without the aid of make-up into a completely different person. He had the benefit, like Day-Lewis, of being given the role of a lifetime. Quell is an incredibly interesting character and Pheonix makes what could have seemed utterly deranged into something understandable and sympathetic. He was just unbelievable.
Daniel Day-Lewis is the real contender because his Lincoln was exceptionally good. In some ways, the fact that he played a living person discounts his accomplishment when compared with Phoenix. The mystique of Lincoln, with all the curiosity we hold for him, also overblows Day-Lewis’s actual performance. Thinking back, he also often played the straight-man to the sillier moments surrounding him. When he was pensive and when he was angry, he was spectacular. But those weren’t consistently required of him in the way that Phoenix’s Quell required believable abnormality from his character.
Denzel Washington and Hugh Jackman hold very traditional places here. They’re characters are men in tough situations. Washington’s was in a way more impressive because it was a common and believable internal conflict that drove him. Jackman had the benefit of song. Consider that if he were not in a musical, would his Valjean be considered strong or over-acted? Was that the best performance of the year? Obviously not. Washington, though is far closer to contention. If it weren’t for Phoenix or Day-Lewis being given these incredible characters, he’d be a lock.
Bradley Cooper is a bit of an odd man out. It’s a strong performance of a mentally unbalanced individual. What lacked for a great performance, however, is any menace. Cooper is sympathetic from the word go and is the unquestioned hero. Phoenix’s Quell is a good counterpoint. That guy is off and I’d be afraid to be around him. Cooper’s Pat, you just need to handle. It just wasn’t that kind of movie.
Day-Lewis I think might be a lock on winning the Oscar. There are possibly crummy reasons for that. Namely, that people are far more likely to have seen Lincoln in theaters than The Master, which is a far more condusive a venue for Phoenix’s grand performance. Compare that with Bradley Cooper or Hugh Jackman who won’t suffer from the downsizing. They can be small because they aren’t frightening, but Pheonix is scary and that’s awesome on the big screen. But Day-Lewis also has the benefit of being the giant in the film–whatever you may think of Jones’s performace, they don’t really share screentime–while Phoenix is sharing time and space with Phillip Seymore Hoffman.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
- Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty
- Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook
- Emmanuelle Riva for Amour
- Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild
- Naomi Watts for The Impossible
Should: Marion Cotillard
Will: Emmanuelle Riva
I’d have liked to have seen Emily Blunt for Your Sister’s Sister (review) in this category, but I’m not exactly sure where they draw distinctions on Leading/Supporting roles. They’re probably just determined by where they’re entered because that’s the only explanation for Philip Seymour Hoffman being in the Supporting Actor category. Even so, Blunt didn’t get a Supporting nomination which is too bad.
Will and Should are indecipherable to me when it comes to Actress awards. Where I feel like I can take myself out of the equation and under how others saw a particular film or performance, I have never understood people’s choices for Best Actress. When Sandra Bullock won the award, it was clear to me that the category was voted on by random. The fact that Marion Cotillard wasn’t nominated is a joke. Her performance was so strong and required so much that not only should she have been nominated, she should have won.
That said, Jessica Chastain was very good in Zero Dark Thirty. Chastain is probably the best actress of her generation. Why Lawrence is getting as much praise as she has isn’t entirely clear to me. She’s a fine actress and in Silver Linings Playbook, her performance was very good for a comedy. She suffered, like Cooper, from having to perform what she’d been given and that included a laborious monologue (that some people loved). Really, that scene in the movie sunk absolutely everyone. For the first hour, I’d have no problem with the nomination.
Wallis’s nomination for Beasts of the Southern Wild strikes me as silliness. She’s fun and she’s precocious and that’s a great thing to see in the performance of such a young person, but she’s not exactly creating something. She says the lines and, being as young as she is, will appear to be discovering the world anew. It’s not a performance, it’s a recital.
I can’t speak to the performances of Riva (for Amour) or Watts (for The Impossible). I suspect that Riva really had to put herself through the ringer as an elderly person who suffers a stroke. Watts, on the other hand, almost certainly put in a good performance of a person in extreme circumstances. Could you call it a better performance than Noomi Rapace‘s in Prometheus (review)? I sincerely doubt it. It’s the bias of the “true story” over science fiction.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
- Alan Arkin for Argo
- Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook
- Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master
- Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln
- Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained
Should: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Will: Philip Seymour Hoffman
This is a tough set of nominees. There are many many slights, one of which I anticipated which was Michael Fassbender not being nominated for his universally praised performance in Prometheus. If he’d been nominated, I would have said he should have won. Another surprise absence is Javier Bardem from Skyfall. With Fassbender out, I would say that Bardem should have been on the list and would have been a tie (for me) with Hoffman.
As it is, you’ve got three old folks looking for some pity votes, one consummate actor, and a comedic selection. Of Arkin, De Niro, and Jones, De Niro is the only one that stood out as performing anywhere off his comfort base (and he was very good at it). Jones got a lot of critical praise, but I didn’t see why. He had to do what he’s done time and time again, repeat witty, rapid-fire dialogue. This isn’t No Country for Old Men (2007) which included something approaching a physical performance. Arkin has been playing the same whiny guy since forever. ”What? What? Oh, forget about it. What are you, crazy? Okay, fine. Have it your own way.”
Christoph Waltz is the indie comedy nominee. All but Hoffman played comic characters, but Waltz is the quirky dialogue one. There are moments in Django Unchained where Waltz was playing something like an interesting character (as opposed to caricature). But was De Niro or even Waltz in the same realm as Philip Seymour Hoffman? Hoffman’s main trouble is the ending of The Master where he is utterly, unintelligibly ambiguous. I still think it’s him and voters are going to have trouble when they start putting names side-by-side. So I say Philip Seymour Hoffman should and will win the Oscar.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
- Amy Adams for The Master
- Sally Field for Lincoln
- Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables
- Helen Hunt for The Sessions
- Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook
Should: Anne Hathaway
Will: Sally Field
Best Supporting Actress is a little more difficult to decide who will win. Anne Hathaway put in an amazing performance and should win the Oscar. Her performance was undeniably moving. Amy Adams, though, had easily the most complex and interesting character in the list. For that reason, I would not be upset in the least if she won, but I doubt that she will. First, the movie was released some time ago and recent history shows a preference for big performances rather than subtle ones. Jacki Weaver was very good in her role, but I’m a bit perplexed that she got the nomination. Compared with Kelly Reilly from Flight, it was a very pedestrian performance. Personally, I’d have like to have seen Hathaway get double nominated for her performance in The Dark Knight Rises.
I didn’t see Helen Hunt’s performance, so I can’t rightly criticize it. That said, if she played something other than a guarded but ultimately loving maternal figure, it’d be the first time. The actress that gives me pause on predicting a Hathaway victory is Sally Field. She’s someone that comes in with all kinds of pedigree which seems to be very appealing to voters (especially in Actress columns). Her performance, though lovely, wasn’t quite crazy enough to be interesting. She just seemed like a worrier except when she put on her very strong face. Just seemed like a crowd-pleaser kind of a performance. I was a hair’s breath from giving Academy voters the benefit of the doubt, but ultimately I can’t. Sally Field is going to win.
- Michael Haneke for Amour
- Ang Lee for Life of Pi
- David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook
- Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
- Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild
Should: Ang Lee
Will: Ang Lee
I am so surprised by these nominations both in who is missing and who is included. Zeitlin is the biggest surprise inclusion. Beasts of the Southern Wild was a fine film but are you saying it was better directed than Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow), The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson), Argo (Ben Affleck), Prometheus (Ridley Scott), or even Skyfall (Sam Mendes)? Obviously not. I’m astounded by this list. To me, the nominees should have been Bigelow, Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Ang Lee, and Ridley Scott. Onl one of those got a nomination.
Russell did a fine job. He was a little keen on rushing the camera in on the actors for my taste, but it was certainly a more ambitious and involved effort than you typically see of a romantic comedy. I don’t think this is near the quality Spielberg could have brought to the Lincoln. I just can’t get past how unambitious it is. And, as you know, I have no useful words on Michael Haneke because I didn’t see Amour yet. I have a hard time imagining that it is something more than solid craft.
That leaves, by attrition, Ang Lee. I don’t think his work was nearly perfect. I’ve talked about the CGI already. But he certainly gave it a try and was closer to accomplishing a consistently good work than anyone else on the list. Ang Lee for the win.
Best Original Screenplay
- Amour: Michael Haneke
- Django Unchained: Quentin Tarantino
- Flight: John Gatins
- Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
- Zero Dark Thirty: Mark Boal
Should: Mark Boal
Will: Mark Boal
I’m beginning to be afraid that I really missed something with Amour. I plan to see it before the Academy Awards are decided, but now I have to make a dedicated effort. Still, I think Boal will win the award by default. I’m surprised that Tarantino got the nomination here because of the controversy being as literal as it has been. Still, writers like controversy more than most. Also somewhat surprising is that no straight-comedy being nominated. Moonrise Kingdom is like a comedy, but it’s the indiest of indie comedies. It’s a tough year.
Mark Boal clearly did the best structural work of the nominees. His task was massive in condensing time and space with a great many plot point. The dialogue, though often heavy with jargon, was still top quality (if not particularly clever). Gatins’ Flight might have gotten my interest if he hadn’t dove neck deep up his own butt with that PSA ending. I have no love or interest in the hipster zaniness that Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola have put together in Moonrise Kingdom. Tarantino has never been to my tastes whatever his use of racial slurs. He’s a David Mamet-manqué without the research or bite. Thus, I say, it’s Mark Boal who should and will win. The achievement is too great for voters to ignore without some coordination efforts behind the others.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Should: Tony Kushner
Will: Tony Kushner
The adapted screenplays are in a far fairer fight. Kushner’s screenplay, though structurally cheesey, creates too great a Lincoln to go unrewarded. I almost said that Russell should win while Kushner will, but then I remembered how great the anecdotes were and how the style of Lincoln’s speech made Day-Lewis’ job so much easier. Tony Kushner should and will win. Russell’s script is just super funny and interesting (but for the ending which is too cheesey). David Magee’s job was possibly the most difficult from what I understand. Life of Pi was said to be unadaptable and yet he certainly makes it work. There is the cheese–so much dairy!–but he does put the device in place that tells exactly the story he wants. The screenplay to Argo was, much like the movie as a whole, unbalanced and not as well paced as it might have been. The Beasts of the Southern Wild script was unremarkable. I have no remarks.
Best Animated Feature
- Brave: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
- Frankenweenie: Tim Burton
- ParaNorman: Sam Fell, Chris Butler
- The Pirates! Band of Misfits: Peter Lord
- Wreck-It Ralph: Rich Moore
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
Best Production Design
Best Costume Design
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
- Hitchcock: Howard Berger, Peter Montagna, Martin Samuel
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Peter King, Rick Findlater, Tami Lane
- Les Misérables: Lisa Westcott, Julie Dartnell
Should: The Hobbit
Will: The Hobbit
Best Original Score
Best Original Song
- Chasing Ice: J. Ralph(“Before My Time”)
- Les Misérables: Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer(“Suddenly”)
- Life of Pi: Mychael Danna, Bombay Jayshree(“Pi’s Lullaby”)
- Skyfall: Adele, Paul Epworth(“Skyfall”)
- Ted: Walter Murphy, Seth MacFarlane(“Everybody Needs a Best Friend”)
Should: Mychael Danna, Bombay Jayshree
Best Sound Mixing
- Argo: John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, José Antonio García
- Les Misérables: Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, Simon Hayes
- Life of Pi: Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill, Drew Kunin
- Lincoln: Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Ron Judkins
- Skyfall: Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, Stuart Wilson
Should: Not Les Misérables
Will: Who Knows?
Best Sound Editing
- The Avengers: Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams, Daniel Sudick
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher White
- Life of Pi: Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik De Boer, Donald Elliott
- Prometheus: Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley, Martin Hill
- Snow White and the Huntsman: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Phil Brennan, Neil Corbould, Michael Dawson
Should: Snow White and the Huntsman
Will: The Hobbit
Best Documentary, Features
Best Documentary, Short Subjects
Best Short Film, Animated
So many awards out there about which I know neither the criteria upon which to make a judgment nor the inclination to pontificate. So here are the categories over which I have an opinion. In Cinematography, I had such a major problem with Lincoln that to find it among the nominees strikes me as a practical joke. Still, none of the others strike me as obviously superior and therefore picked Skyfall as likely to take voters’ pity. We also see that this is where Anna Karenina starts to pick up nominations–all on the production/editing side.
Speaking of production design, I said that Argo should win for one particular reason: detail. The movie’s greatest asset is its attention to detail. I just think that should be honored. This one’s a dice roller otherwise and I said Les Miserables because it seemed the least deserving. I would also like to point out that in Snow White and the Hunstman, there was one of the coolest scenes of visual effects I’ve ever seen. Sadly most of the rest of the movie was kind of junk (review).
For all else, my attitude is one of extreme indifference or complete ignorance and often both.